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This is my first time teaching mathematics. I've been giving lessons based on a certain textbook which contains excellent exercises (not just the exercises, but the order in which they appear leads one to discover mathematics for yourself). However, the textbook has a solutions manual, and I am certain that if the source was revealed, then students would purchase the manual and defeat the purpose of the course. I am wondering if it is ethically acceptable to retype myself some of the exercises and exposition from parts of the book in order to obscure the source (and perhaps reveal it at the end of the course)?

My intentions are solely to create a joyful mathematical experience for the students. There is no intention of plagiarism. My only worry is that the exposition is so good that I don't see how much I can deviate.

Clarification: The course is not intended to have students master a technical subject and then solve problems under a time pressure. This is not a mathematics course for engineers or scientists. Rather, problem sheets are given each week, with the requirement that at the end of the week the student turns in 10 solutions to their favorite problems. The focus is on quality of writing and clarity of though. In fact this entire issue is now resolved as I have communicated with the author.

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    I can of course buy the manual, but why should I, when I can just copy the homework from my mates!? The only way to catch all ways of "gaming the system" is by having a test in a controlled environment, and let only that controlled test count towards grading. – Alexander Jul 5 '16 at 7:49
  • I have been searching for such a textbook for self study and to teach my daughter. Might you mention the name of the textbook? If you would rather not mention it publicly, then you can message me from my website. Thank you! – dotancohen Jul 5 '16 at 12:16
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    ArtofProblemSolving.com – 3264 Jul 5 '16 at 21:48
  • I would like to thank everyone. I have gained great insight into teaching. – 3264 Jul 6 '16 at 0:00
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    Even if you keep the source from them and only reveal it at the end of the course, you can do this exactly once. Every following year of students will manage to get the information from their seniors. – skymningen Jul 6 '16 at 11:40
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I can think of the following potential ethical issues, some more easily mitigated than others:

  • Misleading others into believing that you have created the exercises yourself - You can easily avoid this by explicitly noting that the material is adapted from another source (without specifying the source). In most cases, there is no expectation of originality in teaching materials anyway - see Is it considered plagiarism for a professor to use uncited sources in teaching materials?
  • "Stealing" professional credit or similar benefits that would otherwise be due to the original authors - If you are redistributing the materials to colleagues for use in their courses, or otherwise using the materials in a way that would earn professional "credit" or goodwill (not just assigning the exercises to students), then you should definitely cite the source. Otherwise, I don't see a problem here.
  • Withholding a potentially useful resource from the students - If the book is genuinely helpful, I don't like the idea of preventing students from finding out about it. (Surely there is some more content and other exercises in the book that you aren't rewriting and giving to your students, that they might benefit from?) If you judge that the educational benefit of preventing some students from finding the solutions is really much greater than the benefit of some students buying the book and using it to learn more effectively, fine; but think that through very carefully.
  • Suppressing sales of the textbook - Presumably if you did not obfuscate the source, some of your students would buy the book (because it is such a helpful learning resource), and the authors of the book want people to buy it (or download it, if they have made it available in that way). I suppose you could mitigate this by getting permission from the authors.

Personally, I would prefer to tell students about the textbook, but remind them that if they don't actually do the exercises themselves, they will probably do poorly on the exams. If that was not an option, my second choice would be to modify the exercises so that students who had the original text and the solution manual would only be able to solve them if they understood them.

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    my second choice would be to modify the exercises That's probably hard to do. Obviously the original exercises were well designed so not just the exercises, but the order in which they appear leads one to discover mathematics for yourself Nonetheless, I agree with the ethical issues presented. +1. – scaaahu Jul 5 '16 at 3:10
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    I have emailed the publisher and the author responded giving me permission. Everything is fine! – 3264 Jul 5 '16 at 6:05
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    @scaaahu Being an instructor means also being able to produce well-designed exercise, either from scratch or by modifying existing ones. It might be hard, but it's part of the duty. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 5 '16 at 7:55
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    @Marianne013 If you don't put in any effort - I can assure you that there is a lot of effort that goes into teaching a course even if the instructor doesn't make up new homework exercises. (And why should they invent new exercises, if they have no educational benefit over existing exercises? I write new assignments if I am unsatisfied with the existing ones; if there are already good exercises, I could almost certainly be doing something else with that time that would be of greater benefit to my students. Also see this answer). – ff524 Jul 5 '16 at 9:48
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    As far as effort, over 10 hours are spent each week working directly with students. Mathematics problems have been created for several thousand years. "Being an instructor means also being able to produce well-designed exercise, either from scratch or by modifying existing ones. It might be hard, but it's part of the duty." I disagree entirely. If a course uses a textbook, should the professor not use any problems from the textbook? – 3264 Jul 5 '16 at 21:56
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My intentions are solely to create a joyful mathematical experience for the students. There is no intention of plagiarism.
(...)
However, the textbook has a solutions manual, and I am certain that if the source was revealed, then students would purchase the manual and defeat the purpose of the course.

I want to challenge this perception. I think you, by removing the opportunity to use the solutions manual, are making this a less joyful experience for your students.

When not having access to the solutions you remove the possibility of easily getting help when stuck, and gaining confidence of having done a exercise correct after giving it a go. Possibly why the solutions are available in the first place!

To expand on this from my own experience when I was a student: It's not fun to get stuck on hours for a problem, when you just don't see the solution you're supposed to find. Having to go to the lecturer for help is a big obstacle, and would make me dread doing exercises for that course. The help from the lecturer would anyways be a simple "look at using this method" which I could have found for myself in the solutions manual.

Secondly, even when not being stuck, if faced with several similar tasks in a row that build upon each other, I would like to be certain I have understood the first ones correct before moving on to the more advanced ones. A solutions manual allows easy access to verify that, thus gaining confidence and making solving the next tasks more motivating.

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    The purpose of my course is not to harshly grade students on exams for perfect technical skill, but rather to have students collaborate in groups or with myself and the TA to solve problems and hand in solutions at the end of the week. It is a sort of mathematics for social sciences type of course, not an engineering course. – 3264 Jul 5 '16 at 8:02
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My answer is similar to Matsemann's:

An enjoyable mathematics experience is one where the student learns the subject and becomes confident in their ability to perform the techniques.

Arguably, you could try to get all of your students to have this experience, but it's also likely that a majority of your students simply aren't interested in learning (as ghastly as that sounds to most of us).

The best thing that you can do for your students is provide opportunities for them to actually understand the material so they can later apply it. One of the best ways to understand the material is universal to all disciplines - careful practice.

Engineer your class and grading style to promote the kind of practice that helps them understand.

I had two fantastic math classes in college - Calculus 2 and Linear Algebra. In the former, to teach us the different series and whether or not they converged, each day he'd put a series on the board, ask the name of it, and then show us several examples of the series and integrating the series. The homework supported the problems, and then ultimately the tests were against the material that we covered. I think we may even have had a practice test to ensure that we had all of our questions answered before the actual test.

Linear algebra was similar. We had to prove different things, like a certain matrix was an identity matrix. After teaching us how to do the proofs, we had quizzes every day where we used the proofs that we learned. Maybe one day we had to prove that this was some kind of matrix

0  1
1  0

And then the next day it was

0 0 1
0 1 0
1 0 0

By changing things around he made sure that we actually understood.

Were there kids who dropped out of those classes? I'm sure there were. Were there some who still failed or got D's? Yeah, probably.

But if we wanted to pass the class, and wanted to get an A, it was totally possible.

They also emphasized working out the problems because we could get at least partial credit if we were doing something right, even if we made a little mistake or took things in a wrong sort of direction.

You will always have students who will try to get something for nothing, and you will always have students who will actually try to get something from your class. You can decide how much you want to gear your class towards punishing and rewarding these individuals. Me? I'd design my tests and grading schemes so that people who pay attention and do the work have no problems passing the tests, and those who just phone it in end out choking on the tests.

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